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Xi joins Marx and Mao as required course at China's top colleges

Move follows increase in criticism from intellectual circles

A poster with a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Shanghai reads: "Follow the Party's command. Be capable of winning wars. Maintain good discipline."   © Reuters

BEIJING -- China has instituted classes at elite universities that teach the philosophy of President Xi Jinping, a move that follows a crackdown on intellectuals who have spoken out against the Chinese Communist Party power structure.

Starting in the fall semester, 37 universities nationwide will launch introductory courses on Xi Jinping Thought, according to the Sept. 1 edition of Qiushi, a political theory journal published by the Communist Party.

These schools include big names such as Peking University, Nankai University, and Tsinghua University -- Xi's alma mater. It is expected that students attending these universities will be generally required to take the Xi Jinping Thought course.

The courses will take place at School of Marxism, an institution attached to the 37 universities. The departments instruct students on the theoretical concepts of the Communist Party, which is directly involved in operations.

Previously, students were required to take four mandatory courses at the Schools of Marxism, including those that teach classical Marxism and the thinkings of Mao Zedong, the founder of postwar China.

The course on the Xi Jinping Thought will be added to the coursework. This looks to be in preparation of next July's centennial of the formation of the Communist Party of China.

The concept, officially called the "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era," was first outlined by Xi in a speech delivered during the National Congress of the Communist Party in 2017.

The Xi Jinping Thought calls for radically upgrading the nation's economic prowess by 2035, and for dramatically advancing scientific and technological capabilities by the same date. The goal is to transform China into a "great modern socialist country" by the time the People's Republic celebrates its 100th birthday in 2049.

Tsinghua University is among the 37 universities that will teach introductory courses on Xi Jinping Thought.   © Reuters

The thought envisions a People's Liberation Army made up of "world-class forces" that can match the capabilities of the U.S. military by midcentury.

The move to make Xi Jinping Thought courses mandatory appears to be connected to intellectuals who have recently aired objections to what is seen as heavy-handed tactics adopted by the Politburo.

Xu Zhangrun, a reform-minded scholar who was a law professor at Tsinghua University, wrote essays in February pinning blame for the coronavirus epidemic on the response by Xi and his Politburo. Xu, who also criticized a 2017 decision to remove presidential term limits, has since been dismissed by the university.

Cai Xia, a one-time professor at the elite Beijing leadership academy, the Central Party School, said the best way to pull China out of the "crisis situation" is to "replace the leader." Chinese tycoon Ren Zhiqiang said the novel coronavirus epidemic is directly linked to the Politburo's penchant for suppressing free expression.

Both Cai and Ren were stripped of their Communist Party affiliations. Cai now resides overseas while Ren was handed an 18-year prison sentence last month for graft charges that his defenders say were politically motivated.

China is applying similar ideological instruction among ethnic and religious minorities.

During a two-day symposium regarding the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region held last month, Xi called for education to "heighten a sense of identity of the Chinese nation" and to "constantly strengthen ethnic unity."

In Inner Mongolia, authorities instituted elementary and middle-school curriculum last month that scales up instruction in Mandarin Chinese.

The decision to require a university course enshrined with the name of the top party leader is highly unusual. Xi also awarded himself the title as the "core" of the party when he removed term limits in 2017, moves many analysts say reflected Xi's awareness of Mao's decadeslong reign.

The consolidation of power has spilled over into the diplomatic sphere as well. On July 20, the Politburo established the Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy research center at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a clear bid to tighten the grip on diplomatic officials.

The center serves to construct the theory, system, mechanism, and capacity of "major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in a new era," according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

"China's foreign policy will adopt the Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy as a guide to overcome hardships and break new grounds," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a speech during the inauguration ceremony.

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